What Is the Restored Gospel?

Logo of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Christianity today is divided into hundreds of different denominations, each one claiming to be the true church of Jesus Christ. Many churches have some truth, but their beliefs and practices conflict with each other, so they can’t all be right about everything. How can we tell which denomination is the closest to God’s intentions for His Church? Do any of them stand head-and-shoulders above the rest?

To answer this question, we should consider what was taught by Jesus Christ and the Apostles, as recorded in the Bible, and how the early Christians envisioned and practiced their faith. Churches that seek to do this today are called “Restorationist” — and one such church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which believes that Christianity was corrupted and has been restored by prophets and apostles in recent centuries. As such, the Latter-day Saint tradition is considered by its adherents to be Restored Christianity, and its teachings are called the “Restored Gospel.”

Let’s examine why the Restored Christian faith of the Latter-day Saints — which has historically been called “Mormonism” — is truly the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ancient Apostolic Christianity and the Early Church

The message of the Gospel, which means “good news,” is that God is our Father in Heaven and we humans on earth have fallen into sin, but because God is a loving Father, He will forgive us when we repent and return to Him. To enable us to do this, God has sent His firstborn Son, Jesus Christ, who never sinned, to atone for the sins of all humanity by dying on the cross, and then rising from the dead to prove to us that God and goodness are triumphant over evil. During his life on earth, Jesus instructed us in divine virtues and called us to take up our cross and follow him as his disciples. If we do this, we are promised eternal life in the Kingdom of God — and not only that, but that we shall reign with Christ as joint heirs of our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom (Rom. 8:16-17, Rev. 5:10).

One of the key points of the Gospel as taught by the Apostles is that death is not the end of the hope of our salvation. Peter, the chief of the Apostles, taught that even those who have died in sin and unbelief can still be saved in the afterlife and continue progressing spiritually (1 Pet. 3:18-22, 4:6). The Apostle Paul confirmed this hope of postmortem salvation, approvingly mentioning the practice of baptism on behalf of the dead (1 Cor. 15:29). It is therefore evident from the Bible that the early Church believed in a hopeful Gospel through which all souls, living and dead, might be saved in the fullness of time.

The work of bringing the Gospel to the sinful and unbelieving dead would be accomplished through ritual ordinances on earth as well as ministry activity in the spirit world. For this purpose, and for the redemption and transformation of this world in the age to come, the early Christians believed that the disciples of Christ are to be a royal priesthood under the authority of our spiritual King and High Priest, Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:9, Rev. 1:6, Heb. 6:19-20).

The Bible records no division between clergy and laity. The Biblical Christian concept of priesthood was a universalizing reform of the Jewish ideas about priesthood, rather than a special class of people. The early Christians were essentially Messianic Jews who believed in expanding the faith to include the Gentiles, without requiring them to observe all the laws of Moses. They emphasized universal moral laws and our eternal progression in the image of Christ, the perfect example of man in God’s image, as all human beings are intended to become.

The early Christians were essentially Messianic Jews who … emphasized universal moral laws and our eternal progression in the image of Christ.


The Great Apostasy and the Imperial Roman Church

In 70 CE, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman Empire. The Hebrew nation was decimated and its people scattered. Christianity survived only among Gentile converts throughout the Greek and Roman world. As a result, the Christian Church lost touch with much of its Jewish roots and began a process of transition to a completely Romanized religion.

During the first three centuries of the Christian Era, many church fathers continued teaching some of the original beliefs of the Apostolic Church that were later diminished or rejected, such as the hope of postmortem salvation and the “restitution of all things” (Greek: apokatastasis), and the eternal progression of human souls (epektasis) to become deified and exalted in God’s image (theosis). These original Christian teachings lasted longest in the theological school of Alexandria, Egypt, and were associated with saints and religious leaders such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa. The original Judeo-Christian concept of the priesthood was lost, however, as were some of the ordinances such as the baptism for the dead, and a different type of priesthood emerged in its place, based on the pagan idea of a professional clergy.

In the fourth century, the process of apostasy from Apostolic Christianity more fully took hold. The Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian and began enforcing a specific version of the faith through government power. Later that century and on into the fifth century, the influential theologian Augustine promoted a trinitarian view of God, in which humans are mere creatures rather than God’s spiritual children, and the idea that the fate of our souls is fixed at death, going either to heaven or to eternal hell. In the sixth century, the Roman Emperor Justinian retroactively condemned as heresy some of the most important ideas of the earlier and more Biblically based theologians of Alexandria, and Augustinian theology became the dominant interpretation of Christianity.

The “Great Apostasy,” as Latter-day Saints call it, was complete. In the centuries to come, the Christian religion became an imperial power led by politicians in Rome, enforcing a false gospel upon the people of Christendom and falsely claiming their church to be the kingdom of God on earth. There were popes who lived in the lap of luxury and indulged wildly in the pleasures of the flesh. Church leaders sold “indulgences,” so that the rich could have their sins forgiven while the poor would have to languish in hell. Catholic armies invaded the Middle East and indiscriminately slaughtered civilians, including many Christians, in the Crusades. Horrific tortures were inflicted upon people of other religions, as well as Christians with beliefs that were considered heresy, in the Inquisition, which condemned many people to be burned to death at the stake.

The Reformation and the Restoration

In the 16th century, a German priest named Martin Luther began a reform movement to protest the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. His movement spread throughout Europe and caused a major schism, launching a new type of Christianity called Protestantism. Various new denominations emerged from the Protestant Reformation that were independent of the religious and political authority of Rome.

The invention of the printing press during the same historical period led to the widespread dissemination of the Bible in people’s native languages. Protestant churches embraced this development, whereas the Catholic Church had preferred that the Bible be read only in Latin and explained by the priests to the laypeople. The newfound accessibility of the scriptures led people to think for themselves about the meaning of the Gospel and encouraged the formation and growth of various new religious communities.

Among the Protestant or “Reformed” Christian movements were some that began to rediscover and restore some of the teachings of the ancient Apostolic Church. During the 16th through 18th centuries, the Anabaptists, Restorationist Universalists, and Methodists played especially important roles in this process. Ideas that emerged in these traditions included the priesthood of all believers rather than a separate clergy; the importance of salvation by free will, and the baptism of freely believing adults rather than infants; a more expansive vision of God’s plan of salvation, including for the sinful and unbelieving dead; and a more meaningful calling of all Christians to Christlike holiness or “sanctification” in the divine image. But none of the Protestant denominations embraced all of these teachings — or to the degree that they did, they were still tied to some of the mistaken beliefs and practices of the era of the Great Apostasy.

In the 19th century, a new religious movement was started by Joseph Smith, an uneducated young American who saw a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Joseph claimed to be a prophet inspired to restore the original, authentic Christianity and the true Church of Jesus Christ — a process he began which Latter-day Saints call “the Restoration.”

During the early-to-mid 1800s, Joseph Smith and the church he founded, called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, began teaching the doctrines that were lost or corrupted after the ancient Apostolic Church was replaced by the imperial Roman version of Christianity. What Latter-day Saints call the Restored Gospel is, for the most part, the Christian faith that was taught and practiced in Biblical times. The Jewish Temple that was destroyed in the first century has been reimagined and reconsecrated as temples throughout the earth, where sacred ordinances for the salvation and exaltation of the living and the dead are performed. Today, the Church is led by modern-day prophets and apostles who bring continuing revelation to the earth.


NEXT: How Should Christians Do Church? →